When you watch a college game on the television, do you see the athletes getting off their buses and wonder what they do when they’re traveling?
Perhaps the best thing that happened to me the first four days in Anchorage, Alaska, was that I found myself standing in the street in my pajamas when it was -20 degrees, with a towel wrapped around my head. I was watching fireworks.
I am in Anchorage for the U.S. National Championships of nordic skiing. I had thought, Alaska! I’ve never been to Alaska! And it’s Nationals! This is going to be great!
It’s worse than freezing up here. The first training day was all right, cold but bearable. On the second day, the thermometer in the stadium read -13 Fahrenheit while we skied. While I survived without frostbite, it’s not the most enjoyable skiing I’ve ever done. Gliding is a joke when the snow is Styrofoam.
On the second day, the heaters in our hotel rooms began to fail. Mine, which I am sharing with Audrey Weber, is the only room for the entire women’s team that stays where we set it at 62 degrees. The rest of the girls are stuck in 50 degree rooms or colder. They come to visit us a lot.
Then came Saturday. The minimum legal temperature to hold a race is -4 degrees, and the forecasted high for the day was -7. We were supposed to be racing at 10 a.m., but the start was postponed until 11:30. Then at 11 it was postponed to 1:30. Then at 1 it was postponed to 2. Then at 1:30 it was postponed to Sunday.
Sunday was just like Saturday, except that the race was cancelled at noon instead of 1:30 and we never received bibs because the organizers never thought we’d actually race.
Needless to say, we’ve been doing a lot of sitting around. Sitting in our (cold) hotel rooms, sitting in the “chalet” at Kincaid Park wondering if we’ll ever get to race, sitting at dinner because there’s nothing else to do except go back to sitting in our rooms.
Why aren’t we doing our homework? The term started Monday and we don’t have any yet.
Why aren’t we sightseeing? We try. Audrey, Hannah Dreissigacker, Katie Bono and I went for a walk one day. After entering several shops simply because we were too cold to keep walking, we ended up at Alaska Native Arts, where we perused paintings and ceramics that we couldn’t afford. Some of my favorite pieces were clay tiles with impressions of leaves and feathers.
As for our coaches, Cami Thompson and Ruff Patterson, they’re in this strange loop too. I asked Ruff what they do all day, and he said, “We just brush skis over and over and over again, and then I get take pictures of the Sound, and then we brush skis over and over and over again. We talk to the other coaches about thermometers, and then we brush skis some more. You know.”
So we find ourselves, night after night, sitting in our hotel rooms. On Saturday we were watching “Little Miss Sunshine” when Brett Palm came over and mentioned that there would be fireworks in a few minutes. We all pretended to be excited, but nobody moved, and fifteen minutes went by.
Then, all of a sudden, there were crashes and booms. We raced out onto the balcony in our t-shirts, but couldn’t see anything. We raced to Brett’s room, where the balcony faced a different direction. Alex Schulz came out in his bare feet. I had just finished showering, so I had a towel-turban on my head. A building just barely blocked the view.
We took the elevator to the 14th floor, but the conference room windows faced the wrong way. We tried the external stairs, but yet again found ourselves facing the wrong direction. The door to the roof was locked.
The only option left was to actually go out on the street. After a few moments of hemming and hawing about the cold, we ran outside. We guessed if we ran we’d be warmer, and when we reached a giant crowd of people, we looked up. It was spectacular.
It turns out that this week was the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood, which is a strange concept for someone from the New England. The Alaskans had decided that the best way to celebrate would obviously be to buy more fireworks than anyone had ever bought before, and set them off from the tops of buildings.
Drunken revelers shouted “50 years, everyone!” and screamed when the biggest bangs came around. We huddled together, completely unequipped for the cold. I took my towel-turban apart and reconfigured it as a shawl to cover my neck as well as my head. My hair was completely frozen.
Brett was wearing a flannel shirt, Carhartts, and no hat. “I’m fine except my ears,” he kept saying, to which I would reply, “too bad you don’t have a wet towel like I do!”
Katie and I almost retreated to the hotel several times because of the cold, but every time we started to leave, a bigger display would get going, and we’d be drawn back towards the crowd. We joked that we would all get sick and not be able to race, if racing ever even happened.
As Audrey noted, if we had planned to watch the event and worn our parkas, we would have complained about the cold anyway. This way it was like an adventure, and the excitement kept us from freezing. It might be the only interesting thing to happen all week.
The rest of the time, I guess, we’ll just be sitting.